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Joan of Arc
Victor Fleming had a very full career in Hollywood. Starting out in the silent days he worked his way up through the film crew ranks and eventually became a director. He was at the helm of nearly 50 movies in his lifetime, including such classics as Treasure Island (1934), Captains Courageous (1937), The Wizard of Oz (1939), and Gone with the Wind (1939). It has been reported that Fleming felt that he didn't get the credit he deserved for Gone With the Wind, being overshadowed by David O. Selznick. (Thought he did win a Best Director Oscar for the civil war epic, so the story may be apocryphal.)
To right this percieved injustice, the last picture that Fleming made was another big budget flick that he was hoping would rival his famous earlier work. He decided to make a movie based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play Joan of Lorraine. He tagged to star of the play, Ingrid Bergman, to reprise her role for the film, and had the play's author co-write the screen treatment. But even with all of these things on his side, Joan of Arc, as the movie was named, flopped when it was released. Running at almost 2 ½ hours, the film was drastically cut and reedited (including moving some scenes from the middle of the movie to the beginning, and adding narration) down to a much leaner 100 minutes for overseas release. If that wasn't bad enough, the film was re-released in 1957 in a widescreen format "Superscope." This was accomplished by chopping off the to and bottom portions of the image, kind of the opposite of a pan and scan job. With all of these versions of the film available, the original cut seemed to be lost. Luckily, the UCLA Film and Television Archive took on the task of preserving this film and were able to recreate the original 145 minute work from the original Technicolor camera negative and a sound track form both a 16mm print and a Superscope print found in the Netherlands. This glorious looking restoration has now been released by Image.
Most people are familiar with the story of the 15th century peasant girl that is recounted in this film. As the movie starts, France is losing the 100 Years War, and the English controll a good part of the country. 17-year-old Joan hears the voices of Saints, which for years had guided her. But now they tell her that she will be the savior of France, drive the English out of her country, and crown Charles King. Scared and uncertain, Joan is determined to follow this holy decree and sets out to have an sudiance with Charles. She tell him that God is working through her, and that she will lead an army to rout the British. She manages to convince the uncrowned prince of the truth in what she says by telling him things that only he could know.
Now in charge of a small army, Joan still has to persuade the captains to listen to her, and the men to follow her. By promising them victory and insisting that God is on their side, she leads her troops to their first battle. England had taken most of France's largest cities, and only Orleans was still in French hands, but it was under siege. Joan takes her army there and liberates the town. The people of France are convinced of her holiness, and come flocking to her. As her army grows, so does her fame and her military victories. She frees the town of Reims, and has Charles crowned there.
But with the crown on his head, Charles is content, and wants to make peace with the English. Joan does not want that, not while British troops are still on French soil. Instead of being an asset, Joan has become a liability, and when she is captured, Charles leaves her to her fate.
This was a very good film, with wonderful acting and a great script. While not as powerful as Dryer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, this movie still had a lot of emotion and feeling. Bergman does a superb job in her role as the young peasant girl who inspires a nation. Her fear at the beginning when she is called on to perform such a difficult task, her rallying of the troops, and her determination to beat the British all breeth life into her character. Though she was 33 at the time, Bergman is able to believably play a 17-year-old maid without making the audience question her. While her accent does seem out of place occasionally, most notably when she commands the troops to storm the fort outside of Orleans, it doesn't distract from her role.
Populated with Hollywood mainstays, this film has many talented actors, all of whom do a splendid job. The one person who manages to steal just about every scene though is King Charles, played by José Ferrer in his first major role. Ferrer is able to play the Dauphin very realistically, making all of his different personality traits seem natural, even when they are contradictory. The Dauphin is insecure, weak willed and money grubbing, yet able to rise above his failings when the situation calls for it. Ferrer was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, and he clearly deserved it.
Oddly for a big budget movie, the film seemed sparse at times. The army that Joan was leading seemed to consist of a couple of dozen extras except during the big battle scene. Most of the outdoor shots were filmed on a sound stage, and it looks like it, which is too bad. The battle of Orleans, though it had a larger cast, wasn't as grand as I was expecting, and seemed very staged. But the strong script and the wonderful acting more than make up for the deficits in the production.
The mono sound was very good for a film of this age. There isn't a large dynamic range, and the battle scenes don't sound like Saving Private Ryan, but then again the movie was made in the late 40's. There was some background hiss that was audible, but it didn't interfere with my enjoyment of the film.
The Technicolor full screen image was absolutely stunning. The opening credits are on a brilliant blue background (a color that is hard to reproduce with Eastman color) instantly identifies this as a Technicolor movie. The colors were all vivid and bright, and looked amazing after all these years. There wasn't any grain, and only a very rare spot on the print. There were no encoding artifacts that are worth mentioning. This is a gorgeous looking film.
There weren't any extras included on this disc. I was hoping that some of the extra shots that were incorporated into other cuts of the film would be put on the DVD; the maps of Joan's progress across France for example. It is too bad that they weren't.
This is a very good movie. The script is engrossing and the acting top notch. This tale of a young peasant girl who rises to be more powerful than a king is told in a believable and entertaining style. A must for fans of Ingrid Bergman or old movies in general. Highly Recommended.